Date on Senior Honors Thesis


Document Type

Senior Honors Thesis

Degree Name




Degree Program

College of Arts and Sciences

Author's Keywords

forensic anthropology; human skeleton; bone morphology; sexual dimorphism


This research explores sex estimation standards used in forensic anthropology in an effort to further the conversation about forensic anthropology's binary-focused language and methods. Discussions regarding sex estimation methodology are important in light of gender variance in the general population. Presently, there is minimal published research on the identification of gender non-conforming individuals in forensic anthropology.

Two researchers individually assigned scores to features associated with sexual dimorphism in the os coxae according to existing methods for 253 individuals, equally represented by self- reported males and females. These data were statistically analyzed for correlation and overlap between features.

Results mainly point to a high degree of variation among individuals, especially biological males who tended to be represented across most of the possible score values for a given feature.

Females showed markedly less variation, likely due to evolutionary constraints on os coxa morphology associated with the ability to give birth.

This variation establishes a need for revised methods for sex estimation, to account for a spectrum of gender variance, especially as it may relate to marginalized non-binary, transgender, and intersex individuals.

Lay Summary

Forensic anthropology aims to positively identify an individual from their skeletal remains. Forensic anthropologists can accomplish this by identifying various characteristics such as sex, ancestry, age, etc. The estimation of sex, in particular, is predicated on the basis of a sex binary which becomes less descriptive and useful overtime as our societal understandings of sex and gender progress. This research examines sex estimation practices with acknowledgement to the prevalence of gender variance (i.e. any gender expression that falls outside of cultural gender norms). This research explores sex estimation in a broad sense, emphasizing human variability and overlap between self-ascribed male and female categories with discussion of possible confounding variables to sex estimation (e.g. body size and age). This variability-- which is especially pronounced in biological males-- introduces some questionability to the binary focus of current sex estimation standards' and encourages the development of more inclusive methods.